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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Russia's Nuclear Nightmare is Spreading

ABC News reports:

An unspecified safety problem prompted an emergency shutdown at a Russian nuclear power plant, but no increase in radiation levels were reported, federal officials said Tuesday. The incident occurred at the first unit of the Balakovo plant around 11:15 p.m. Monday, the Emergency Situations Ministry said. The plant, located near the Volga River city of Saratov, about 450 miles southeast of Moscow, has four 1,000-megawatt pressurized water reactors. Nuclear regulators said the problem was located and corrected Tuesday morning and could be restarted later in the day. "Initial reports indicate the cause of the shutdown was a problem with the safety system. The reactor has been taken off-line," the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement. The Balakovo plant was the site of a false alarm in late 2004, when a turbine malfunction prompted a shutdown and rumors of a major accident sparked panic among nearby residents. Russian lawmakers recently passed legislation to restructure the country's nuclear power sector, which includes 31 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants, accounting for about 17 percent of electricity generation. President Vladimir Putin has pledged to build another 42 atomic reactors by 2030 and increase the proportion of electricity generation produced by nuclear plants to about 25 percent. Environmental groups have criticized government plans to keep older model nuclear plants operational, saying that graphite reactors like the one that exploded in Chernobyl and other types have serious safety flaws. About half of Russia's nuclear reactors are of the graphite and older models.

Despite these problems, Russia is moving forward to construct nuclear power stations in other countries. It is already deeply enmeshed in Iran, and now it has been announced that it will place numerous reactors in India:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to build four new nuclear reactors for India. India's prime minister is calling the relationship with Moscow a new "strategic partnership" with energy at the center. The two countries were allies during the Cold War. These days, they're refreshing their friendship through energy and military cooperation. Putin will be the guest of honor at India's Republic Day celebrations Friday. Russia has been eager to reassert its traditional role as the chief supplier of nuclear know-how to India in the wake of a landmark civilian nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington. Last year's US-India pact appeared to give American companies a strong position in India's nuclear market.

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